Remember the Alfa Romeo 8C supercar? We've just spent a week testing its little brother, a cute supermini called the MiTo. How can a supermini be related to a supercar, you ask? According to Alfa, it's all about having the right DNA. We have no idea what that means. But is it fast enough to terrify passengers? Does it have tech befitting a £170,000 motor? Let's sort this out.
The 8C is a stunning car, so it's no surprise the MiTo borrows a few of its party tricks. Everything from the bulbous snout to the teardrop-shaped windows to the concentric LED lights at the rear, has been lifted, in some shape or form, from the 8C. The slightly squashed front end has a rather sad expression, as if it knows it's the runt of a pedigree litter, but overall, we think it looks gorgeous -- expect plenty of admiring glances from pedestrians and fellow drivers.
The MiTo offers three driving modes, selectable via a 'DNA' (dynamic, normal and all-weather) switch -- aha! -- by the gear stick. The all-weather mode gives you extra grip in icy or wet conditions, the default mode gives you super-light steering and a generally easy ride, while the third, dynamic mode, transforms the car completely. It revs more eagerly, pulls harder and, despite only having a 1.4-litre turbocharged engine, does 0-60mph in a brisk 8 seconds.
An overboost feature, available only in dynamic mode, gives you an extra kick of turbo power under heavy acceleration. This facilitates overtaking, and is accompanied by Gran Turismo-style graphics on the instrument panel showing you what level of boost you're using. Tres cool.
Handling is generally very good. The ride is harsher than we'd like, and the steering could provide a touch more feedback to warn us when the front wheels are about to lose grip during cornering, but these are quibbles we can live with.
Alfa Romeos have a reputation of breaking down, falling apart and generally doing things that aren't conducive to stress-free motoring. The only sign of trouble on our test car was the passenger airbag warning light refusing to turn off, but that didn't bother us -- we didn't plan on crashing, and even if we did, we'd be in the driving seat, where the airbag works just fine.
It is slightly worrying, however, that the first 18 pages of the MiTo's user manual are dedicated to things that might go wrong. Either Alfa Romeo is taking reliability very seriously, or it expects you to make use of those 18 pages on a regular basis.
The MiTo has a wealth of switches, dials and buttons, the most interesting of which is a Microsoft Windows Start button located on the steering wheel. This activates the Blue&Me information and entertainment system, co-developed by Microsoft and Fiat, Alfa Romeo's parent company. It allows playback of digital music via the car's USB port as well as hands-free use of mobile phones that have been paired via Bluetooth -- all via voice control.
The media player is exceptionally easy to use – simply connect a USB mass-storage device, an iPod filled with unprotected MP3 or WMA files, and the MiTo plays those files over the car's speakers, while displaying track information on the dashboard's central display. Dialling a contact in your phone book is achieved by pressing Start, saying the word 'dial' aloud, followed by the name of the contact. Text-to-speech technology means SMS text messages can be read aloud over the car's speakers at the driver's request. To see the system in action on the Fiat 500, click here.
One other feature we were particularly keen on was Hill Hold. This system detects when the car is stopped on a hill with an incline of 5 per cent or more, and applies the brakes to prevent you rolling backwards into parked traffic. The brakes are only applied for approximately 1 second, but in practice that's long enough to move your foot from the brake to the accelerator pedal, find your clutch's biting point, and pull away.
The MiTo has several optional technologies, including heated windscreens, an alcohol test kit, satellite navigation and a Bose hi-fi with eight speakers, a subwoofer and digital amplifier. The latter was unavailable on our test car, but we imagine it's better than the rubbish Blaupunkt radio that comes as standard.
The MiTo comes in three trim levels. The entry-level Turismo retails for £10,995, our 155bhp Lusso costs £14,045, while the top of the range Veloce will set you back £14,995. Emissions on the entry-level car are mediocre at 138g/km, but the combined fuel economy of 43.5mpg is pretty respectable.
The MiTo may forever live in the shadow of the 8C, but it leaves most other superminis in its dust. It's infinitely more desirable than established vehicles in its class -- including the highly rated Mini. It's also relatively affordable -- just over £10k is a pretty reasonable cost of entry into the Alfa Romeo owners' club. Get one if you can.
Edited by Nick Hide